The mineral exploration industry is expecting a shortage of workers as the current generation of workers enters retirement. Because the industry is changing so quickly, anyone who is interested in one of its rewarding careers will need to commit themselves to lifelong learning – continuously upgrading and refining their education and professional training, says AME BC chair David McLelland.

“There have been many changes in mineral exploration,” McLelland says. “Examples are changes to prospectors’ rights of entry on private land; the shift from ground staking to online, selection-based tenure acquisition; online assessment filing and tenure renewal; increases to the maintenance cost of mineral claims; and [the] court-imposed duty of government to consult First Nations regarding development work.”

McLelland says most self-evident mineral occurrences have already been explored. “That has left deposits that are non-apparent, deeply buried, or difficult to access or develop. That increases the cost of exploration.”

More positively, attempts to limit exploration’s footprint on the land have led to new ways of applying science to the industry. “Many of these new methods leverage prospectors’ and geoscientists’ capacities,” McLelland says. “The use of computational science in surveying and seeing the physical world is enabling us to analyze complex, dynamic signals and relationships; test hypotheses; and communicate and collaborate in near-real time.”

While all these changes have been taking place, a concentration of mineral exploration companies, exploration scientists and industry professionals has been growing in Vancouver. “With the concentration of this talent, there has been an increase in the research and development of new technologies and methodologies corresponding to the increased need for greater efficiency,” McLelland says.

The demand for labour in the industry has also been affected. “With the recent acceleration of technical applications and the advent of online, interdisciplinary collaboration in our industry, the demand for people who are prepared to continuously learn new communication and technical skills is simultaneously increased,” McLelland says. “This fact is present in all aspects of the industry, from labour to research.”

In response to these changes, people working in or considering a career in the industry need to think carefully about their education and training. “If you are interested in technical work, it is a good idea to acquire the best science education you can,” McLelland says. “Although techniques, equipment and methodologies change quickly, the science does not. A good grounding in theory and practice will not be outmoded and can be applied to specializations as new innovations and technologies emerge.”

McLelland says that although academic credentials are important, they need to be supplemented with common sense and a commitment to lifelong learning. “Sometimes the technology we get qualified for changes or disappears, or the market for some qualification dries up,” he says. “It’s better to aim as high as we can see, at least a little ahead of today’s technologies, and be prepared for a continuum of learning.”

Glen Wonders, AME BC vice-president of technical and government affairs, is a good example of professional flexibility and the lifelong learning that goes with it.

“I started out in forestry with skill sets in corporate social responsibility and Aboriginal relations,” Wonders says. “From there I migrated to subsurface resources, first oil and gas and then minerals. Along the way I completed a master of business administration at Royal Roads University and took some short-term courses in business, health and safety, and corporate social responsibility.”

Wonders says lifelong learning is a widely held expectation now. “The industry is very dynamic. More people, with different skill sets – teams of people – are needed to advance projects now. As a result, you need to be prepared to invest in yourself, to be flexible and to look for opportunities to improve yourself.”

Jill Tsolinas, executive director of the BC Centre of Training Excellence in Mining (CTEM ), has three tips for lifelong learning. “First, identify the job you want, and understand the training you need for it,” Tsolinas says. “Contact CTEM and get a copy of the BC Career Pathways Guidebook: Mining Careers for information.”

Tsolinas also suggests approaching consulting industry associations, the Industry Training Authority and WorkBC. “I would also recommend talking to somebody with the job you want or a company you want to work for, to get advice on job requirements and relevant training,” she says.

Tsolinas says there are many lifelong learning programs in British Columbia to support individuals who are upgrading skills or transitioning jobs. The Certificate in Mining Studies is a program offered jointly by UBC and InfoMine. Regional institutions with a strong focus on local communities and First Nations also offer opportunities for upgrading and skills training. Northwest Community College’s School of Exploration & Mining and the College of the Rockies both have a strong focus on entry-level jobs. The College of New Caledonia focuses on individuals who want to update their skills. And Thompson Rivers University offers courses in trades training. (See the Fall 2015 issue of Mineral Exploration for a comprehensive listing.)